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Is it a “neurological defect” or an understandable response to life difficulties?

Recent research showed again that people diagnosed with “schizophrenia” tend to “jump to conclusions” sooner than do most people, and this causes them to do poorly on many tasks. 

A psychiatrist I know pointed out that research like this tends to be interpreted as illustrating some “neural” defect in the brains of those diagnosed, and wondered if the dominance of this sort of interpretation might be a demonstration of  a “research prejudice” for seeing the problems of “schizophrenia” as lying in neurons alone, rather than in mental processes.

My response to him was as follows:

This emphasis [on “neurons” rather than mental process] enhances the prestige of medical and biological researchers, while it disempowers those diagnosed with “schizophrenia” since they learn to see themselves, as Rufus May put it, as the “passive victim of an active illness.”

This also directs our attention away from how the neural difference may result from an understandable story:  by failing to look for a possible story, our chances for actually helping people are diminished.

One possible story about how the “jumping to conclusions” effect occurs, has to do with divergent thinking and its role in psychosis.  It’s well known that people who tend toward psychosis (both those diagnosed schizotypal and schizophrenic) show increases in divergent thinking,  which is kind of the opposite of jumping to conclusions about something:  instead it involves having a mind that is more open than usual, so that more ideas and associations come in.  This is related to what is often seen in people diagnosed with “schizophrenia” where stimuli is overwhelming, because it is not easily categorized and made sense of.  

One reason people might get in a habit of “jumping to conclusions” is that they are over-correcting for too much divergent thinking, which has left them mentally overwhelmed and confused.  In other words, they are shifting from being too open or uncertain, to being too closed and certain, in order to avoid overwhelm.  Indeed I recall reading research showing that people diagnosed with schizophrenia will often perceive a much greater than normal initial sense of possible meanings to a word or phrase, followed by a “collapse” of all those meanings down to fewer possible meanings than what the “normal” person perceives.  In other words, the person is initially “too open” and then overcompensates and becomes “too closed” or “jumping to conclusions.”

Of course, the neurologically inclined might then start looking for biological mechanisms that are causing “too much divergent thinking.”  It may be that some are biologically more inclined to divergent thinking than others, but we should recall that divergent thinking is a key component in creativity, and that if a person can learn how to modulate it depending on circumstance rather than over-correct for it, it can become an asset.

Other research shows that when people are trying to solve a problem for which their is no obvious solution, they naturally tend to shift into using more divergent thinking, and while this sometimes helps people find solutions, it also naturally makes people more prone to falling into superstition and false beliefs, seeing patterns where there are none, etc.  So the person we see now “jumping to conclusions” may be first a person who faced deep life problems which had not obvious solution, which caused a shift into divergent thinking, which caused the person to be overwhelmed with a sense of too many possible meanings, which then led to jumping to conclusions, etc.  It’s a problematic sort of mental process, but it’s also one a person might be able to learn how to change.

Incidentally, I think the explanation for a lot of “psychotic” process can be found in a fluctuation between “bipolar” extremes, a fluctuation that itself has its source in an understandable response to life difficulties.

4 comments… add one
  • A “neurological defect” or an “understandable response” to life’s difficulties?

    Sometimes it’s neither.

    Sometimes, it’s a physical problem that is not related as much to “neurological”, but aimed closer to the gut – absorption difficulties, or the thyroid, or toxins in food, nutritioinal deficencies, etc.

    Sometimes, it can be a combination of things..
    It can be an “understandable response” to a body that is not working properly, without it being a “neurological” problem.

    These issues can be easily addressed, without psychiatry, and in many cases without psychotherapy either –

    Our fingerprints are unique…. Not two the same.
    So are our bodies, so are our minds.

    The most severe diagnosis of “mental illness” are not “lifelong”…
    They are not “incuarble.”

    People heal.
    People get well, and stay well.

    Duane Sherry, M.S.

  • As far as any psychiatrist’s opinion about neurology…

    If a psychiatrist is interested in neurology, he/she should study neurology, and become a neurologist. And any person who seeks advice regarding in this area should a neurologist… a REAL doctor, and not a psychiatrist!

    Psychiatry is not based on science, nor the scientific method.
    This quote kinda sums it up, short-and-sweet, plain-and-simple:

    “Psychiatry is to medicine what astrology is to astronomy.”
    – Leonard Roy Frank

    Duane Sherry, M.S.

  • In case any of your readers might jump to quick-assumptions, let me set the record straight:

    I’m not a scientologist. I’m Roman Catholic.

    I grow tired of the false assumptions.

    Lots of typos in the past couple of comments.
    It’s hard to type when I think about the injury and harm these wanna-be doctors have caused to so many of my brothers and sisters.

    To any psychiatrist who might be reading:

    Follow your oath, “First, do no harm.”
    The recovery movement is gaining strength.
    Lead, follow, or get out of the way!

    Duane Sherry, M.S.

  • Hey Duane,

    “harm these wanna-be doctors have caused to so many of my brothers and sisters.”

    Are you a brother?